Report card: DefenseJune 18, 2014, by
Dan Girardi – What a roller coaster year Girardi just completed. He looked totally lost at the beginning of the season (like several Blueshirts), but quickly turned around his game and played like his old self during the second-half. Management was convinced that Girardi’s early-season hiccups were an anomaly and rewarded him with a six-year, $33 million contract, essentially choosing Girardi over captain Ryan Callahan. But Girardi again looked like a liability once the playoffs started, culminating in his train wreck performance (mixed with a healthy share of bad luck) during the Stanley Cup Final that left many fans calling for a trade. Girardi had no more than a dislocated finger during the playoffs, so his pylon-like play should raise eyebrows given the substantial financial commitment New York made to him just a few months prior. Nevertheless, Girardi has been a tremendous player for the Rangers during his eight-year career, and, just as Brad Richards did at the start of this year, Girardi seems likely to bounce-back from this most recent embarrassment in a big way. Grade: B-
Anton Stralman – For almost his entire tenure in blue, Stralman was the most underappreciated player on the team. But thanks to his particularly stellar play during the postseason and some gushing comments from talking heads and bloggers alike, Stralman is now viewed as a must-keep player by many fans. Advanced metrics make Stralman look like a true stud, but he’s been a very good second-pairing defender, not necessarily a $5 million a year blueliner. Stralman contributes next to nothing offensively – though some argue that his possession metrics suggest he was a victim of bad luck and believe Stralman actually does far more to help the attack than his point total indicates. Stralman has certainly emerged as a very good defender, but he seems like a guy that was underrated for so long, he’s now overrated. Grade: A-
Marc Staal – First off, Staal deserves a ton of credit for coming back from a devastating eye injury and returning to his previous level of play, or close to it. Staal’s issues remain the same as they’ve ever been: he’s slow and he somehow has none of the offensive ability his brothers possess. But in his own zone – when Staal is only asked to move limited distances and can instead rely on his tremendous stick to disrupt the opposition – there are few better defenders in the entire league. Unfortunately for Staal and other members of the Rangers’ rearguard, they are now constantly compared to Ryan McDonagh. That makes guys like Girardi and Staal – who do several things at an elite level, but not everything – look a whole lot worse than they might have just a year ago. Staal doesn’t play as complete a game as McDonagh, but he excels on one-third of the rink, which is not a backhanded compliment. Grade: B+
Ryan McDonagh – There’s not much point in even writing a blurb here. Everyone knows McDonagh is the future captain of this team and went from being a very good defender to one of the top few on the planet this year. McDonagh’s nearly unmatched speed is the key to his game, and he’s learned to trust it more so that he’s willing to gamble more on the offensive side, knowing that he can outrace nearly any opponent back when necessary. McDonagh’s improvement was universally recognized because of his offensive production – he was seventh in playoff scoring and 17th among defensemen during the regular season – but his game grew much more than that to make him a dominant player. McDonagh’s upper-body strength is now tremendous, and he’s become nearly as good one-on-one playing the body as he’s long been with his stick. There really aren’t any weaknesses in McDonagh’s game, and the best news is that he just turned 25. Grade: A++++++++++++++
Kevin Klein – Few teams are lucky enough to have a bottom-pairing defender of Klein’s caliber. It’s a testament to the 29-year-old that Klein’s adjustment period was almost nonexistent after coming to New York from Nashville in January. Though Klein is limited offensively, the Rangers knew that when they traded for him and made it very clear Klein was expected to be a stay at home blueliner and provide balance to the back end as a rare righty. He did exactly that, and did it very well. There’s very little flash to Klein’s game – though he seemed eager to make a difference on the scoresheet in the postseason – but that’s OK. The Rangers should feel very comfortable bumping his minutes next year in the event Stralman leaves. The real question is: who will replace his contributions on the third pairing? Grade: B+
John Moore – Moore was the forgotten guy on the blueline this year and he didn’t make the leap forward many expected. Moore’s greatest asset is his speed, but he hasn’t really found the best way to utilize it just yet. Moore would have gotten a much higher grade if he’d been able to run with his opportunities on the power play point, but that never happened on a consistent basis. As it is, he’s still a very serviceable third-pair guy that has a significant amount of potential at just age 23. But right now, Moore is merely an average player. Grade: B-
Raphael Diaz – A fifth-round pick was a very reasonable price to pay for a guy the team thought could help solve its power play woes. Unfortunately, Diaz made few tangible contributions when called upon, despite having the right idea. Diaz showed enough to be considered a legitimate option on the final pairing at training camp, but not enough this spring for me to give him more than an Incomplete.